Aaron Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer, Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Ploughshares and Best American Poetry. A three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, he is the recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Mass Cultural Council. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A tour de force, Aaron Smith’s fourth collection of poetry, The Book of Daniel, resists the easy satisfactions of Beauty while managing the contemporary entanglements of art, sex, and grief. Part pop-thriller, part queer rage, and part mourning, these poems depict not only the complications of representation in the age of social media but a critique of identity. Taking on subjects as diverse as the literary canon, his mother’s incurable cancer diagnosis, gay bashing, celebrity gossip, bigotry, violence on TV, and Alexander McQueen’s suicide, Smith proves that the confessional lyric is not dead. In tangents as wild as they are reigned, with his characteristic blend of directness, vulnerability and humor, these poems take on the world as it is, a world we love even as it resists all intimacy.
In his third poetry collection, Primer, Aaron Smith grapples with the ugly realities of the private self, in which desire feels more like a trap than fulfillment. What is the face we prepare in our public lives to distract others from our private grief? Smith’s poetry explores that inexplicable tension between what we say and how we actually feel, exposing the complications of intimacy and the limitations of language to bridge those distances between friends, family members, and lovers. What we deny, in the end, may be just what we actually survive. Mortality in Smith’s work remains the uncomfortable foundation at the center of our relationship with others, to faith, to art, to love as we grow older, and ultimately, to our own sense of who we are in our bodies in the world. The struggle of this book, finally, is in naming whether just what we say we want is enough to satisfy our primal needs, or are the choices we make to stay alive the same choices we make to help us, in so many small ways, to die.
Appetite is a book that explores our American Mythologies, particularly masculinity and film. Smith investigates our fascinations with the body, gender, and entertainment in poems that are critically observant, darkly funny, darkly angry, and, sometimes, heartbreaking.
Whether he is cataloging shirtless men in films and bad television, lyricizing the anxieties of childhood, or redrawing the lines of cultural membership, Appetite attacks its subjects with wit, candor, and compassionate intensity. These poems announce their presence with a style that is as beautifully wrought as it is provocative.
In the America of Appetite, the usual hierarchies are obliterated: the disposable is as valuable as the traditional, pop culture is on the same level as the sacred, and the pleasurable simultaneity of past and present are found in high art and the tabloid. Smith’s work engages our contemporary moment and how we want to think of ourselves, while nodding to rich poetic, cultural, and personal histories.
Winner of the 2004 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize
Blue on Blue Ground is about the body, desire, anxiety, and obsession—how what we want redeems and isolates us (and is sometimes used against us). These poems are artful yet accessible, lyrical yet direct, strange but recognizable.
Smith’s relentless self-examination, fear, sense of humor, and vulnerability are all laid to bare in crisp, precise language. From lonely observations, bizarre medical fascinations, emotion, loss, and honesty, Blue on Blue Ground constructs its internal and external worlds.
The metaphorical city is also a “body,” a place of exile and restoration, a symbol of hope, a catalyst for connection. The urban landscape is often the background for the moment or is the moment itself—the world looked at and sorted into words.
Though at times dark, there’s love to be found. Perhaps it’s what drives this collection, colors its observations, and leads it to finally announce: “Someone is putting the world back together.” <I>Blue on Blue Ground</I> wants to look at absolutely everything and believes that complete exploration of the physical and mental selves—fears and desires—is the key to moving and being completely alive in the material world.